The Nature vs. Nurture debate is a contentious issue; in one corner, there is the idea that genetically, we are predisposed to be a certain way, regardless of our upbringing. In the other corner is the idea that we are all born with a clean slate, and our upbringing and environmental factors dictate what type of person we become.
When we apply these polar opposites to the most extreme, dark depths of human behavior, things get interesting. It turns out scientists who have studied those who commit violent acts have discovered their genes alone could have a huge input into why they behave the way they do. Yikes!
Can Violence Be Linked To Our DNA?
Back in 2009, during the trial of Bradley Waldroup — a man who viciously murdered his wife's friend and attempted to kill his wife — the legal team defending him took the unprecedented step of sending a sample of his blood to Vanderbilt University in Nashville in an attempt to have his sentence reduced.
The genetic team at the university was told to look for a specific gene, and upon looking, found a deficiency in his X chromosome, linked to the enzyme monoamine oxidase-A (MAOA for short). As a result, Wardroup avoided the death penalty.
Crucially, MAOA has been linked to breaking down neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin (two chemicals crucial for making you feel happy). When someone has a deficiency, it can lead to issues in the breakdown process, resulting in impulsive behavior and violence.
The process of trying to uncover the genetic link to violence began in 1978, when a concerned woman entered Nijmegen hospital in the Netherlands. The men in her family had a rich history of violence, and the woman wanted a solution to this trend. Over a decade later, researchers discovered all the men tested had the deficiency linked with the MAOA gene.
'These Glitches Aren't Fate'
But does this really count for such appalling acts of crime? Does a dodgy gene give offenders a license to roam around, do what they like, and blame it on their DNA? Well, Daniel Weinberger, the director of the Lieber Institute for Brain Development at Johns Hopkins University, believes our environment also plays an important factor. In an interview with Popular Science, he said:
“If you inherit small glitches, little pieces of noise, this sets you on a path. But it doesn’t determine you will end up with mental illness. These glitches aren’t fate. They are for risk. Environmental factors are at play too.”
And that appears to be the best way to view the Nature vs. Nurture debate. Yes, glitches can increase the likelihood of certain character traits, but we also have free will over our actions. Using science to justify such violent crimes is a tricky path indeed.
Where do you stand on the Nature vs. Nurture debate?
Source: Popular Science